The State and TransCanada Corp. have formally ended their relationship under terms of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. Governor Sean Parnell shared the news in an address to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. ”I’m pleased to announce here today that we have terminated the license with TransCanada under AGIA and have now completed a traditional precedent agreement,” he said.
TransCanada had state support under AGIA to pursue a gasline to serve North American customers, but the project has shifted focus to overseas markets. State lawmakers approved state participation in the new North Slope to Nikiski gasline this spring, setting the stage for the updated agreement with TransCanada. Governor Parnell says the new arrangement, which also includes North Slope producers, puts the project on a more standard track.
“It’s a more traditional structure then what we had before. It’s a structure that banks and financial institutions are used to providing financing for and that markets are used to seeing,” he said.
Parnell says joint venture agreements between the state and the companies are the next step to move the gasline project forward.
Governor Parnell signed several bills into law while in Fairbanks, including one authorizing $157.5 million in bonding authority for University of Alaska Fairbanks to finance replacement of its aged-out coal fired power plant. State funding will fill out the rest of the tab for the $232 million project.
Parnell also signed a bill that adds “Big Bull Moose” derbies to a list of charitable games the state can license. The derby allows hunters to buy tickets and win a cash prize if they kill the biggest moose. It was forwarded by Representative Tammie Wilson of North Pole on behalf of the Tanana Valley Sportsman’s Association and the UAF Rifle Team, which want to use a moose derby to raise money for their programs.
We’ve heard a lot about mines planned for northwest British Columbia, just across Alaska’s border.
Southeast tribal, fishing and environmental groups have blasted those plans. Critics say they’ll pollute rivers that cross the border, damaging or destroying salmon and other fish runs.
But we haven’t heard a lot from mine advocates. Now, we have.
The site, which also includes copper, is roughly 80 miles east of Wrangell.
Critics say it could damage the Unuk River, which flows into the ocean northeast of Ketchikan.
Seabridge says that’s not the case. Brent Murphy is the corporation’s vice president of environmental affairs
“The concern with minimizing downstream environmental impacts has been the guiding principal behind the whole design of the mining project,” Murphy says.
Critics say the KSM could be about the same size as the proposed Pebble Prospect, a controversial mine proposed for Southwest Alaska.
They worry about plans for huge, dammed tailing lakes that could leak or break, sending acidic water into nearby streams and rivers.
Murphy says they’ll be built in a valley that drains into Canadian, not Alaskan, waters.
“The dams will be of a design which has been utilized worldwide. And these dams are extremely stable over the long term,” he says.
And what is the estimated life of those dams?
“They have to last for the 52 years of operations. And then we will reclaim that and they will last into perpetuity.”
Seabridge Gold has been working on the project since 2008. Murphy says even if everything goes its way, operations won’t begin until the 2020.
“You don’t build a mine overnight,” says Karina Brino, president of the Mining Association of British Columbia.
“There are a series of authorizations and permits from different levels of government that are required. And other than the Red Chris Mine, in the northwest, all the other projects are in exploration stages,” she says.
The Red Chris Mine is in the upper watershed of the Stikine River, which ends near Petersburg and Wrangell. It’s owned by Imperial Metals.
Another project of concern is the long-closed Tulsequah Chief Mine, which Chieftain Metals Corp is trying to reopen. It’s on a tributary of the Taku River, which ends near Juneau.
Critics, including the group Rivers Without Borders, are concerned about silt, acid discharge and dangerous metals.
The Mining Association’s Brino says the same is true for her industry.
“Our objective is to minimize impact. Our objective is to be stewards of the environment as much as anybody else would want us to be,” she says.
So, does the industry care about concerns from this side of the border?
“Absolutely,” Brino says. “My expectation would be that there is participation, hopefully meaningful participation, from your side of the border in the review of these projects.”
Seabridge Gold official Murphy says his company has consulted with Alaska officials once or twice a year since the project began. They’ve also been brought to the KSM mine site.
He says the project needs about 150 permits from the provincial and federal governments.
“We will have to do a lot of work in order to gather the information that will be needed to satisfy the … questions from our regulatory authorities,” Murphy says.
Seabridge just began a season of exploratory drilling at the site. That will help better define where the minerals are, and how much may be there.
Water is being used to flush fuel out of the tundra, where a tanker truck rolled off the Dalton Highway earlier this month. The Nana Corporation truck is estimated to have leaked in excess of 2,500 gallons of fuel near milepost 299, about 110 miles south of Deadhorse. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on scene coordinator Tom DeRuyter says the sloped spill area is being flooded with water.
DeRuyter says the 2.7 acre spill zone is being treated one section at a time and that the lighter-than-water fuel floats to the surface and is mopped up with absorbent material. Over 300 bags of oiled sorbents had been collected as of Monday. DeRuyter says tundra samples are tested to determine the remaining level of fuel contamination.
DeRuyter says about a fifth of the spill area had been treated as of Tuesday, and could not estimate how much longer the cleanup would take. He adds that bear, fox, squirrels and birds have been spotted in the area, but have been kept out of the spill zone.
Juneau Police are reporting the recovery of an eight-foot dance paddle that was stolen Saturday after the end of Celebration, the big biennial cultural event in the Capital City.
Lieutenant Kris Sell says a homeowner who lives near a Juneau theater reported finding the paddle. It may have been dropped or dumped by thieves on the run.
The homeowner called police Monday evening after seeing a picture on Facebook about its theft from the theater parking lot.
At least five vehicles were rifled and various items stolen during Saturday night’s late show.
Sell says the red and black paddle is still in one piece and appears to be undamaged. It’s safely stored in the police station’s evidence room.
The paddle was crafted by carver Doug Chilton and Sitka dancer Wilbur Brown and his family, and it was first used at Celebration this year. Brown is a member of the Kake dance group Keex’ Kwaan.
Brown was unavailable for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Juneau’s Front Street Clinic is now providing service to the general public while also continuing care for the homeless.
When SEARHC first announced the closure of Front Street Clinic last fall due to budgetary constraints, Front Street’s behavioral health specialist Mary Fitzgerald says the providers were worried.
“What are these homeless people going to do? The winter is coming on. They’re vulnerable. But then the community came forward and said, ‘No, this just can’t happen. What can we do?’”
Front Street Community Health Center is able to continue serving the homeless with the help of two major grants – one for $162,000 through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and another for $121,000 through the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.
With a $500,000 budget, the difference will be made up by opening the doors to everyone – from the uninsured to the insured; even cruise ship passengers who have an urgent need.
Front Street has been known as a homeless clinic for ten years. Manager Janna Brewster is happy to continue that work but hopes Front Street can help others as well.
“We want people that don’t have insurance to have a place to go. That’s the biggest gap in services in any community – people who are working but they don’t have insurance,” Brewster says.
Brewster says they’ve had to turn away community members for years.
“Every day we get phone calls from people who are not homeless who can’t find a doctor in town or couldn’t find medical care and now we don’t have to say, ‘No,’” she says.
Front Street’s staff includes three full-time and three part-time employees. Brewster expects the staff will grow to meet demand.
“We have a pediatrician that might come join. We hope we can do more with kids and teens and really expand to just help out overall through the community,” Brewster says.
Throughout the seven-month transition, there was no interruption in medical service to the homeless.
Dean Smith suffered four strokes in 2010. He’s been going to Front Street for a couple of years for medical and behavioral health services.
“I’m not as nervous about my own health as I was prior to seeing them. Being diagnosed with arteriosclerosis in your head, that’s kind of an unnerving feeling. Basically that means you could have six seconds, six minutes, six hours – you never know,” Smith says.
Smith is happy he can still see Fitzgerald and Brewster now that Front Street is no longer in fear of closing.
Brewster says many patients were worried, especially when the old SEARHC sign was taken down at the end of April. The new sign wasn’t yet ready.
“During that time it was kind of quiet and the word was going around that we were not going to be here. In fact, someone even heard that we weren’t here anymore,” Brewster says. “But we put the sign back up and it’s like all of a sudden, everyone has calmed down. They know we’re here and they feel very happy that we’re still going to be able to help them. That’s the most wonderful part of all of this – there are people out there that are so grateful for what we do.”
The new Front Street Community Health Center sign is in place inviting new patients.
For more information or to make an appointment at the new Front Street Community Health Center, call 586-4230.
Last month, the Rasmuson Foundation announced the recipients of this year’s individual artist awards and grants. Several Sitka artists were on that list, and three of them share the same last name.
That’s Tlingit master carver Dave Galanin. Over three decades of artistic endeavors in Sitka, Dave has received lots of recognition for his work. But this year something unusual happened. Not only did Dave receive a sizeable grant from Alaska’s Rasmuson Foundation, his two sons, Nicholas and Jerrod Galanin, also received artist grants from the same private foundation.
“This is definitely the first time we’ve had individuals from the same family receive awards in the same year.”
That’s Foundation spokesman Jason Smart.
Every year, hundreds of Alaskan artists submit grant applications to the Rasmuson foundation, which directly supports artists working and living in the state.
When the 2014 recipients were announced, it took the Galanins by surprise. Here’s Dave again:
“I didn’t know that my boys had put in for it, and they didn’t know I did. When I got the call, I was down at the beach throwing the ball for my dog…and I get a phone call and its a guy from Rasmuson and it was…it was hard to contain myself , I was pretty excited.”
They told him not to tell anyone until Foundation staff made an official announcement.
“So I didn’t say anything.Then I got a call from Jerrod, and he said, ‘hey dad. I got some good news. I got the Rasmuson.’ And I said, ‘wow, way to go. I guess I might as well tell you, I got the Rasmuson too.’ (Laughs). And then I get a call from Nick…the funny thing was Nick, he didn’t get anything , he didn’t get a call, you know, ‘I guess I didn’t get mine.’”
Nicholas got his call the next day.
“We all went up to Anchorage and that was really fun…apparently we only go on family vacations when we win awards. ha ha ha.”
Dave and Nicholas each received artist fellowships, an award of $18,000 designed to give mid-career and mature artists the time and money to create.
Jerrod won a project award, which comes with a no-strings-attached cash award up to $7500 for the creation of a specific artwork. Right now he’s figuring out what exactly that will be. Unlike his brother, Jerrod hasn’t pursued a career as an artist full time.
“Last year was the first time I had a full-time job in a long time because I’ve always bounced around so much. I was a land-surveyor. Before that I’ve worked as a shipwright, I’ve worked as a carpenter, I’ve worked as a commercial fisherman.”
Yet his jewelry is on display in Anchorage galleries. And at the Devilfish, the Sitka gallery owned and operated by the Galanin brothers.
“And I’ve always had artwork somewhat in the background. I’d be happy to make the occasional sale.”
But that is changing, says Jerrod.
“I’ve just really been focusing on the gallery and thinking about art projects and experimenting with that.”
With his fellowship grant, Dave says he’s going to increase the scale of his work and shoot for a one-man show somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
“I’ve actually started a full-sized, life-sized chilkat robe out of copper.”
Nicholas is a conceptual artist whose work is shown in galleries and museums around the world. This month the Galanin brothers attended the opening of Nicholas’ current show at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum. After that Nick will head to Japan for another show opening. His Rasmuson award is already partly spent, he said.
“I’ll get new equipment, and I’ll get some new tools and materials and I’ve already started and even finished some new projects in anticipation of getting that…check.”
While they pursue their current projects separately, it’s clear the Galanins collaborate well together. Here’s Jerrod again,
“I work with Nick a lot..Nick’s my neighbor…late at night we’ll just stay up and brainstorm and talk about art and just do different projects…we both hunt sea otter and we both want to do the fish skin, so that really excites me, just being able to work with my brother.”
And thanks to these arts grants, the Galanins can do that more often.
The state of Alaska will begin a new system for rating schools in the fall. The new system is fairer and more realistic for alternative and small schools.
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development met earlier this month in Anchorage to alter the way schools are rated. In 2013, the state adopted the Alaska School Performance Index, which rates schools on a 100 point scale. The points are awarded based on test scores, improvement on tests, attendance, standardized tests and graduation rates. The schools are then given ratings on a scale of one- to five- stars, five being the best.
Information officer for the Department of Education and Early Development Eric Fry says the new board decided it wasn’t fair for small or alternative schools to be judged by the old system.
“It’s just very tough for an alternative high school to do well on the system because they weren’t earning enough points, they weren’t getting credit for what they were doing which was taking some at risk kids and working with them and improving their proficiency and getting some of them to graduate,” Fry said. ”It just wasn’t fair to make those schools look bad when they are doing what we all want to encourage.”
He says the system will not be letting these schools off the hook.
“We’ve changed the system so the schools will take three years in a row of how their graduating classes did so we have a somewhat larger number of kids to rate them on,” Fry said. ”The idea was just to be fairer to these special circumstances.”
Fry says these rating systems were put into place to improve all schools, not just point out the shortfalls of small ones.
“When a school is one star it means they have to come up with an improvement plan,” Fry said. ”Trying to target a plan that will target things that need improvement. When you take a look at the test scores, the improvement of your kids and the graduation rates, there’s some room for improvement we are basically asking schools what do you need to improve. So we aren’t imposing it in a top down way.”
The new school ratings will go into effect this fall but the results won’t be back until the end of the 2014/2015 school year.
An alert was issued Tuesday concerning the unusually high number of summer flu cases in Alaska.
The Alaska Public Health Alert Network is advising health care providers to consider influenza when evaluating patients with compatible symptoms. The recent rise in summer cases is attributed to summer travelers to Alaska on land and cruise ships as well as a long-term care facility outbreak.
Infectious Disease Program Manager with Alaska’s Department of Health Michael Cooper says usually by June the numbers of flu cases has dwindled down to the occasional diagnosis. The sporadic spring and summer cases are normally travel related. However, according to the Department of Health, in May there were 127 reported cases in the state and 34 in June so far.
“It’s something that we prepare for each year, they match up the vaccine each year. A lot of the severity in the state is vaccine coverage,” Cooper said. ”This past flu year the vaccine was a great match with the strains that were circulating. The more people that go and get vaccinated the lower that the burden of influenza is going to be on that area.”
Cooper says the best ways to avoid getting the flu in the first place is to wash your hands frequently and if you work or live with someone with the flu wash common surfaces. If you have the flu Cooper says it’s important to utilize proper cough etiquette, coughing into your elbow, and try to stay home and avoid spreading the virus.
“There are some anti-viral medications that shorten the duration of influenza and minimize the bad outcomes. They are available and most useful if they are used within 48 hours of initial onset,” Cooper said. ”They can still be effective even after 48 hours so people that meet certain high risk categories might even benefit from those even after 48 hours. The flu is a virus, it’s not classically treatable like a bacteria, and it can’t be treated with an anti-biotic.”
Vaccines for the flu are still available through the end of June.
Four weeks into salmon fishing restrictions, the atmosphere along the Kuskokwim River is tense. At a meeting Tuesday the stress the closures are causing was obvious, but gillnet fishing for salmon is near.
The Bethel Test fishery numbers are showing many more chum and sockeye salmon than kings in the river. That’s one signal that fishing could begin soon. At a Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting Tuesday, subsistence fishers met with managers to figure out when the gillnet restrictions can be relaxed.
Reports of stress along the river in some cases were extreme. Working group member Fritz Charles reported on what he’s hearing about possible violence on the river.
“They’re starting an organization as we speak. If we keep going on like this, what we’re going on, lives could be lost,” said Charles.
Working Group Co-Chair Bev Hoffman told the group that they all have a part in making the summer a success.
“We’re all in it together. And so it’s up to us to calm…when we hear the kind of volatile remarks like that, it’s up to us to calm people, and I’m serious about that,” said Hoffman.
The group did not want to draw more attention to incendiary ideas, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife Warden Robert Sundown told the assembled fishermen and community leaders how the enforcement works.
“The reasons we make our decisions to open or not to open is not going be because of armed resistance, it’s going to be based on the biology of the numbers. The surest way to get from 12 game wardens that we have on the river to 350 wardens, the entire fleet in the nation is to have a gun threat. If you want to see you see 350 wardens on the river, that’s the surest way to do it,” said Sundown.
Tim Andrew from the Association of Village Council Presidents said empty racks have people worried.
“That rainy season is approaching upon us, so people are feeling anxiety about being food insecure. Salmon is extremely important to people in the villages. There needs to be accommodation at some point or some level of assurance from this body or from managers that something there is going to be something positive on the horizon coming up,” said Andrew.
So how close is the first opening? Federal manager Brian McCaffery laid out his plan for the next few days.
“We’re still hopefully looking forward to a first opening, at least downriver, sometime at the end of this week, I’ve not made a decision what day that would be, we want to take a look at least one more day of data,” said McCaffery.
The opening will target chum and red salmon, although some incidental king salmon catch is expected. McCaffery says the first opening may be below the Johnson River and run a few hours with 6” gillnets. The openings would likely move up the river in three day intervals.
After 2013 showed the weakest run on record and not having made escapement in two of the past four years, managers’ top priority is getting enough king salmon to spawning grounds. This year’s run is early and past data shows that early runs can end very quickly.
After nearly a month of closures, McCaffery reassured people that salmon fishing is not far off.
“I think there is a glimmer there, I certainly know that it has been a difficult season for everyone, but we see openings on the horizon, so we’re hoping people can be patient,” said McCaffery.
Working Group Member Fritz Charles say he’ll be passing on the word of potential openings and hopes too that people will be patient.
“I’d rather lose king salmon than lose a life,” said Charles.
The Working Group voted to support managers’ decision to study the numbers this week in anticipation of the first opening.
TransCanada for years pursued a pipeline project with state support under terms of the act. But the project focus shifted from a line that would serve North America markets to one that would serve overseas markets. The players changed, too, causing Gov. Sean Parnell to conclude that terms of the act did not fit with the project being considered.
The state, TransCanada, the major North Slope oil companies and Alaska Gasline Development Corp. agreed to work together to pursue a liquefied natural gas project.
Lawmakers approved state participation, setting the stage for a new agreement with TransCanada.
OceansAlaska, a Ketchikan-based shellfish seed producer, is in a financial mess. Officials with the nonprofit admitted as much during Monday’s Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting. They asked the Assembly for more time to reconcile their accounts related to a borough grant, along with enough borough funding to keep the doors open through the end of July.
Last year, Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly approved a two-year grant to OceansAlaska, totaling $338,000. That’s $144,000 per year that was to be used for operational expenses.
In addition, the Assembly approved a $50,000 grant, to be used specifically for a business plan and a schematic design for the facility’s future operations. How that money actually was spent remains in question – at least partly.
Here is OceansAlaska’s new facility manager, Steven Lacroix, explaining that only $6,000 of that $50,000 grant was spent on its stated purpose.
“As near as we can determine, and we’re fairly confident of it, and we have the bookkeeper here to verify it, it was spent on operational costs, instead of on what it was designed to be spent ,” he said.
Local bookkeeper MJ Cadle was brought in recently by OceansAlaska to figure out how much was spent, on what and when. She’s gone through a lot so far, but, she said, the filing system was inadequate and it’s been challenging to find all the receipts to show where the money went.
“Every day I come upon new receipts,” she explained. “Where I don’t have receipts, I have vendor names and I’ll be contacting vendors if that’s the shortest way to get to those receipts. What I’m attempting to do is make sure that the receipts that were given were correct. To be quite honest with you, checks were written and appear to have not been sent so I can’t find those checks. Not huge checks, but checks were written to pay bills, which made them reimbursable, but the checks were not mailed.”
So, Cadle said, it’s going to take a little time.
Assembly Member Glen Thompson asked whether Cadle has seen evidence of malfeasance. She said it doesn’t look that way to her.
“My initial review was that somebody was operating way above their skill level. And stuff happens,” she said.
Cadle added her opinion that the new board and staff at OceansAlaska want to move forward with the mission, which is to enhance and improve the shellfish industry in Alaska.
One of those new board members is Eric Riemer, a commercial diver who also works with the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association. He said that shellfish farming is important to the future of the shellfish industry, and a source of shellfish seed is a key part of the process.
“You look at the salmon industry here in Southeast, and the only reason we have a sustainable salmon fishery is because of the hatcheries,” he said. “As far as shellfish goes, there’s farms out there … and there’s going to be a lot more of them coming online, especially after OceansAlaska gets up and running.”
Assembly Member Mike Painter noted that the state’s salmon hatcheries are paid for at least in part by a tax that commercial fishermen imposed on themselves. He said shellfish farmers and divers should contribute to OceansAlaska in a similar way.
Reimer agreed, adding that some kind of industry funding is likely in the future.
Following the presentation by OceansAlaska, Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst asked whether the Assembly wanted him to approve invoices from OceansAlaska for the $20,000 left in this year’s grant.
Assembly members were concerned about providing more money to a potentially failing enterprise. But they also worried about not giving the organization the chance it needs to succeed.
Here is Assembly Member Bill Rotecki, who has been a supporter of OceansAlaska: “You can imagine I have a lot of egg on my face. I’ve been trying to push this, and the discovery of mismanaged funds is not very easy for me to accept. But reality is reality.”
Rotecki added that he wanted to continue funding for this year, in hopes of seeing a good plan that would justify future support.
Assembly Member Alan Bailey then asked Cadle whether the doors would close if the $20,000 were not appropriated.
“At this point, I’m still operating with somewhat incomplete information, but basically, yes,” she said.
With Bailey, Rotecki, Phillips and Jim Van Horne raising their hands, the Assembly agreed to continue this year’s grant funding. But each member warned that they would want answers, a good plan for the future and a lot of checks and balances installed before they would consider approving funds for next fiscal year.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the government is sending $28.5 million to local governments in Alaska to compensate them for the tax-exempt federal land within their boundaries. It’s called “Payment-in-lieu of taxes” and this year’s total is $2 million higher than last year. For some cities and boroughs, PILT is an important part of the budget. Last year, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough received $3.2 million in PILT while the Kenai Peninsula Borough got $2.6 million. At the other end of the scale, Yakutat’s share was a little over $100,000.
President Obama announced today he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development. The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department. Australian scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg focused on ocean acidification, which he says undermines the entire marine food chain – from bowhead whales to plankton and shellfish.
“As the water is acidifying around them, they’re having trouble forming skeletons, reproducing, growing, communicating and navigating around marine habitats,” he said.
He says the oceans are acidifying rapidly due to increased carbon emissions. Hoegh-Guldberg says reversing the trend would take 10,000 years or more.
“So this is a really long period of time to pass on a broken ocean to future generations. We’re not talking about grandkids. We’re talking about three hundred generations of humans,” he said.
Another speaker said the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic will be among the first to face damage, because they’re colder and therefore take up more carbon dioxide.
The conference was aimed more at drawing attention to marine issues rather than advancing science. One speaker this morning was Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Obama Administration also announced today an intention to crack down on black-market fishing.
Republican members of Congress are criticizing Obama’s planned expansion of the Pacific sanctuary. Alaska Congressman Don Young says he should have first consulted user groups in the region and worked with Congress.
Small boat fishermen out of Kodiak have found a premium market for their catch, based on the idea of buying local. The jig fishery uses gear as light as ten pounds, and is open to anyone who buys a permit. A number of restaurants are willing to pay more for fish caught that way.
A new Fairbanks area wildfire drew a major response last night. Alaska Division of Forestry information officer Sam Harrel reports that ground and air resources were tapped to attack the Steel Creek Fire, near mile 4 of Chena Hot Springs Road.
“We sent several crews out there and also had the quite the air show going — both were working out there, as were the tankers,” Harrel said. “Both were working out there as the evening came on.”
Harrel says the fire was burning between the Little Chena River and Chena Hot Springs Road, east of Nordale Road, in a critical management area. It’s estimated to have burned about 45 acres. Harrel credits the heavy response with reining in the blaze.
“We’re fortunate that we’re not real busy yet in this fire season and we had a lot of crews available to get right on this, and the aircraft too,” Harrel said.
Harrel says firefighters are mopping up the fire area today. He attributes the Steel Creek Fire to lightning from thunderstorms that rolled through the area yesterday afternoon. He says no other fire starts are known at this point, but could materialize later today.
The weather forecast is not looking conducive to wildfire in the Fairbanks area. The Middle Tanana Valley can expect periods of rain tonight and Wednesday.
The largest labor union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers has a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the state.
The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the Alaska Department of Administration reached the agreement last week after more than six months at the bargaining table.
The IBU represents about 650 Alaska Marine Highway System employees.
While the proposed contract does not include a pay increase in the first year, workers would get a 1 percent raise in year two and a 2 percent increase in year three. Some employees would get additional increases to make their wages more competitive with other jobs in the maritime industry.
IBU Regional Director Ricky Deising says the union’s negotiating team believes it’s the best possible deal and is urging members to ratify it.
We fought for almost seven months to get fair treatment for our members and we believe that’s what came out of this negotiation,” Deising says.
The state backed off a controversial proposal to change how the cost of living differential is calculated for ferry workers who live in Alaska. Those employees currently get an in-state salary adjustment based on Seattle wages. The state wanted to change the base city to Anchorage for all new employees hired after the start of the contract.
During this past legislative session, the IBU and other maritime unions came out strongly against a bill that mirrored the state’s position. The legislation, Senate Bill 182, did not pass.
“We weren’t willing to back off and allow future work to be paid less,” Deising says.
The two sides agreed to freeze the cost of living differential for the duration of the contract, meaning employees won’t get any additional geographic adjustment as part of the negotiated wage increases.
Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer says the state is trying to keep the cost of running the marine highway system in check. The state operating subsidy averages more than $100 million a year, according to recent financial reports for the agency.
“So when you have one sector of state government costing potentially a billion dollars in less than a decade, then there has to be a look for savings,” Thayer says. “And anytime that you’re negotiating wages and benefits that’s one of them.”
Last month, IBU members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if negotiations failed. Thayer says the vote wasn’t much of a factor in reaching the tentative agreement. Deising says it was a show of solidarity, but the union never threatened to strike and had hoped to avoid one.
“The bottom line I believe is the state understood they needed to come to an agreement to take care of their employees,” Deising says.
The state is still negotiating with the other two unions representing ferry workers: the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and the International Association of Masters, Mates and Pilots. Thayer says the state won’t budge much from the deal struck with the IBU.
IBU has set the stage, and we’re not going to differ much for those two unions,” Thayer says.
The current contracts for all three unions expire June 30. Now that IBU has a tentative agreement, Deising says its members will continue working under the current contract. He expects a ratification vote to take place in the next two months.
The Alaska Legislature must approve the financial terms of the contract.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Ricky Deising’s comments about the strike authorization vote. A previous version stated Deising did not think the strike authorization was much of a factor in reaching the tentative agreement. In fact, he said it was a show of solidarity.
Alaska Communities To Be Compensated $28.5M for Tax-Exempt Lands
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the government is sending $28.5 million to local governments in Alaska to compensate them for the tax-exempt federal land within their boundaries.
Obama to Expand Pacific Marine Sanctuary
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
President Obama announced he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development. The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department.
Kodiak Fishermen Find a Niche Consumer Market
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Small boat fishermen out of Kodiak have found a premium market for their catch, based on the idea of buying local. The jig fishery uses gear as light as ten pounds, and is open to anyone who buys a permit. A number of restaurants are willing to pay more for fish caught that way.
Steel Creek Fire Near Fairbanks Draws Air Response
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A new Fairbanks area wildfire drew a major response last night. A forestry official reports that ground and air resources were tapped to attack the Steel Creek Fire, near mile four of Chena Hot Springs Road.
Ferry Workers Reach Tentative Labor Agreement
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
The largest labor union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers has a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the state. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the Alaska Department of Administration reached the agreement last week after more than six months at the bargaining table.
GCI Doles Out Cheeseburgers To Celebrate Launch of 3G Service
Ben Matheson, KYUK –Bethel
GCI celebrated the launch of 3G data service in Bethel by flying in 6,000 McDonald’s cheeseburgers Friday. Residents in the community have been frustrated by slow connections speeds through GCI.
Right-Wing Lt. Gov. Candidate Vies for Ballot Slot
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A Fairbanks woman is part of a team trying to get a new party on the Alaska ballot. Maria Rensel is running as an Alaska Constitution Party candidate for lieutenant governor.
Plans for a Skatepark Get Rolling in Kwethluk
Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel
Village youth in the Kuskokwim village of Kwethluk will soon have a chance to do something few of them have done before: skateboard. Construction of a new skatepark there will begin next month. The park is the first of it’s kind in the YK Delta.
Loo Dedication Draws Small Crowd in Ketchikan
Maria Dudzak, KRBD – Ketchikan
A ribbon cutting ceremony for a new public facility was held last week in downtown Ketchikan. The christening of the Stedman-Thomas Neighborhood Loo attracted about 40 people on a sunny and windy morning.
GCI celebrated the launch of 3G data service in Bethel by flying in 6,000 McDonald’s cheeseburgers. The Friday lunchtime crowd stretched out and around the parking lot of the Long House Hotel.
Standing over 100 people in line for burgers, GCI’s Vice President for Wireless Services, Dan Boyette, says crews are continuing to tweak the network, but it appears to be functioning as intended.
“All of those things that people really had trouble doing before like browsing the internet or sending pictures..that sort of thing will work fine now with the 3G speed, while it’s tough with the 2G or EDGE speed,” Boyette said. ”It’s a huge improvement and it’s something we want to keep doing throughout Western Alaska.”
GCI has invested millions of dollars over the last several years, including work to build the TERRA-Southwest fiber optic and microwave tower connection. Boyette says tests show phones getting 6 to 7 megabit per second downloads speeds. He says people who don’t have smartphones should see better performance because the old networks is seeing less demand from smartphones.
Paul Landes is Senior Vice President for Consumer Services and spent the afternoon talking with customers.
“The feedback we’re getting is all really good feedback, people are very happy…clearly being able to do things they weren’t able to do in the past, so it’s an exciting launch, everyone seems pretty happy,” Landes said.
As Bethel’s Henrietta Knight waited in line for her cheeseburger, she says she’s not satisfied with her service.
“Every time I go to use my 3G service in the evening…I cannot get on, when I call, they say, oh we’re having problems there,” Knight said.
Knight says she asks for a credit on her account, but adds GCI won’t give her that.
Bethel residents’ years-long struggle with data service has gone to a new level this year and reached the courts. This spring, at the same time GCI’s 3G launched, attorneys filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of several customers against GCI . They said GCI did not live up to what was promised in cell phone contracts.
Representing the plaintiffs, Attorney David Henderson said Monday that GCI filed a motion for dismissal, to which the plaintiffs responded. They’re now waiting to hear back from GCI’s attorneys.
As that process slowly works its way in court, 10 other communities near Bethel will get 3G service. By November, the service should be up and running in Tuluksak, Kwethluk, Akiak, Akiachak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Atmauthluk, Napakiak, Napaskiak, and Oscarville.
A Fairbanks woman is part of a team trying to get a new party on the Alaska ballot. Maria Rensel is running as an Alaska Constitution Party candidate for lieutenant governor. Resnel says the campaign is all about breaking up the lock Republicans and Democrats have on Alaska politics.
Rensel is trying get on the ballot along with gubernatorial candidate J.R. Meyers of Haines. They both have to gather the signatures of 3,017 registered voters — that’s 1 percent of Alaska voters. If successful, and they garner at least 3 percent of the vote in the November general election, the Alaska Constitution Party would join the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Alaskan Independence as official political parties, which can field candidates without having to gather signatures. Rensel, who hosts a Facebook page dedicated to freeing convicted Fairbanks Militia leader Schaefer Cox, says the Alaska Constitution Party is affiliated with the National Constitution Party, and predicated on the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
Rensel’s running mate, J.R. Meyers says the campaign is about getting the Alaska Constitution party on the ballot, noting it shares ideology, like the right to life, with the Republican Party.
Meyers cites continued government growth under Republican administrations that’s led to deficit spending. He says Alaska can no longer afford to subsidize all areas of the economy. He also advocates for changing the Alaska Constitution to bring it more in line with the U.S. Constitution and return mineral rights to land owners.
The Alaska Constitution Party is hosting an informational meeting Tuesday night in Fairbanks.
Village youth in the Kuskokim village of Kwethluk will soon have a chance to do something few of them have done before: skateboard. Construction of a new skatepark there will begin next month. The park is the first of it’s kind in the YK Delta.
That wasn’t an Alaska Airlines jet flying over, that’s the sound of an expertly executed skateboard stop at the Bethel Skatepark. It’s a sound not yet familiar in the village, but that’s about to change in the community of Kwethluk, about 20 miles upriver from Bethel. Construction materials are now being gathered at a Seattle, Wash. barge company. The funding comes from a grant provided by Indian Health Services for Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Kwethluk, in cooperation with YKHC, hired a company suited for such construction called Native Skateparks. The company owner, Greg Mize, shares his experiences with formerly concerned parent before and after the grand opening ceremonies.
“Adults who said, ‘oh they’ll break their heads’ or ‘oh we need to do this instead,’ and they’ll drive by and see thirty, forty, fifty kids there. And I’d be standing there and grown men who came up to me and were kind of angry, come up to me later and say ‘you know what, buddy, I apologize, this is the greatest thing that happened to our kids,’ ” says Mize.
The project partners give the community youth an avenue to actively combat obesity, give kids something to strive for and help kids avoid negative activities. YKHC Office of Environmental Health pitched the idea to many villages as part of their Diabetes Prevention Program. Buth they say only Kwethluk was interested. According to YKHC, another reason Kwethluk is a good choice was its close proximity to other villages, like Akiak and Akiachak.
The skatepark, or “skate dot,” a term used to describe smaller skateparks; will be 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. The rectangular “skate dot” will sport quarterpipes on both ends crossed by a row of ramps and rails cutting through the center.
With all these fun features Kwethluk City Clerk Ana Galila says there’s a staff member at YKHC Environmental Health with extensive skating expeirnce who’s promised another surprise for the youth there. “Brian Berube is gonna give lessons and they’re gonna handout skateboards and safety helmets,” says Galila.
Mize says construction supplies for the Kwethluk skate dot should land there on or around July 7. Then, after a couple of weeks, construction should begin… “Then twenty days later you should have a skatepark. We’re just going there to work, because we don’t goof around,” says Mize.
A privilege he hopes kids in Kwethluk will enjoy, as long as they wear safety gear, one of many new safety ordinances already implemented by village officials.